Thursday, 23 September 2010

A Return To The Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) - Bacombe Hill, Wendover, Bucks.

On Monday when i received a call from Mike Collard to say that a Wryneck had been found by Dave Parmenter near Wendover i dropped everything and headed off as soon as i could. When Dave called Mike giving him the good news the problem arose that not knowing the site very well meant that Dave couldn't give the best access point off the top of his head and only knew the location from where he'd parked. Mike told Dave to stay with the bird instead of going back for his map as he didn't want to loose sight of it, Mike then put the news out immediately enabling many birders to get over to see it even if it did mean they had to walk a little further until better directions could be posted.

I was one of those that took the long route and wandering along the paths from Dunsmore to Balcombe Hill I met LGRE who had just left the site as the bird flew off, a phone call from Mike let me know they were watching it again and after saying goodbye to Lee off i went. After a 15 minute long trek I arrived at Bacombe Hill with the tumulus on the right and spotting a couple of familiar faces knew that i had finally made it. Mike & Rose C had been kind enough to contact me earlier in the morning to tell me that the bird had been found so i was pleased to hear that they had seen it and that it was still in the area, unfortunately it had now gone in to hiding. Mike showed me where they had seen the bird and where it had been found which helped immensely, the area is covered with small bushes, shrubs, willow herb and other vegetation and there's a lot of blind spots where a skulking Wryneck can certainly stay undetected. After 10 minutes there was no sign and Mike & Rose had to leave, saying our goodbyes we went our separate ways with me heading back towards the tumulus to view down the hill. It's difficult to stand on any one path and see down another because of the undulation so instead of continually walking around the paths and inadvertently flushing the bird i decided to find a good spot and wait it out. Back up the path we walked until we came to the tumulus where we slowly walked around the back and up on to the top of the tumulus itself, from here you can view down the hill with the best views all around.

I was surprised that there was now just 3 of us searching for this elusive little bird and it also meant that there were less eyes to find it with. Rosie Hamilton then arrived and after filling her in on the "whereabouts & when's" we decided to edge to the top of the tumulus to view down the pathway where the bird had been found earlier in the morning, we had looked up the path from the bottom of the hill earlier on with no luck so it seemed logical as the next step. We took a few paces forward to a point where we could just see down the path and suddenly Rosie's on it, not more than 25-30ft in front of us sits a Wryneck hidden amongst the grass. It then proceeded to hop out in to the open at which point i was already trying to grab a few photos, it sat in full view on the path for a few moments before heading in to the grass on the other side of the path and then flying off. Fantastic, i was really pleased but despite waiting a further few hours it didn't reappear or it was there and we just couldn't see it. As a few of us left others arrived and of course later the bird re-appeared again. The following day the Wryneck again put on a good show giving all those that saw it very good views and astonishingly down to just a few feet.

With the weather set to change towards the end of the week it now meant that i had less time to return and attempt some better photos while the light was still good and not wet and cloudy, there was also the fact that the bird could go at any time so as soon as i had some available time to travel back to Wendover i would.
A day later I arrived in Wendover with blue skies overhead and this time parking at Ellesborough Road lay-by which meant i had a shorter but steeper walk, heading towards the tumulus a Bullfinch could be heard calling from the pathway hedgerows along with Nuthatch and Goldcrest. After traversing the pathway i arrived at the field with just the walk up to the tumulus to endure, in the distance i could see a few people sat and stood at the top of the hill giving an indication that the Wryneck was probably near to them and after the final climb i arrived out of breath but happy that on the way back it was all downhill!

As soon as i reached the rest of the group i was grabbing for my camera, unbelievably the Wryneck was only 10ft or so in front of them feeding on an ant hill and perfectly lit by the overhead sun. It continued to feed without a care in the world for anybody else and even as camera shutters clicked away it went about it's business. As long as the bird was in view i continued to take photos and after reaching somewhere around 75 shots the bird wandered round the back on the ant hill and out of sight, i was more than breathless, one because of the killer walk up the tumulus and two because of the proximity of the Wryneck. I had seen them many years ago as a young child on family holidays in Spain but a vague recollection and a fleeting memory is all that it ever was, a species so unique that for me it ranks up there with Hoopoe and Bee-Eater in the must see and get a good photo of bracket, not a mega rarity by any means but a must see species. My first UK bird was seen in Buckinghamshire a few years ago in none other than Mike Collards front garden so it was fitting that he should call me to give me the news on this bird. This bird on the other hand was almost tame and thought nothing of wandering around in front of us to and from it's favoured ant hills, i really had to pinch myself to make sure i wasn't dreaming.

The Wryneck continued to show exceptionally well for long periods allowing everybody who came and went to get some fantastic views, people arriving were more than surprised to find the bird a few feet away when they expected to be looking at it from some distance. Later in the afternoon the Wryneck did fly off in to the nearby hedgerow where it remained for a short while, whilst waiting for it to return both Kestrel and Hobby passed over as did a steady stream of Swallows and House Martins in small groups. It was 20 minutes or more until we discovered the wryneck wandering through some of the thicker grass towards us at the top of the tumulus, nobody had seen it fly out of the tree but there it was heading back out towards the path. It soon stopped at an ant hill and started feeding again pausing briefly to skywatch as a Red Kite drifted in to view, as soon as it had passed it continued feeding. Mike Collard had now arrived and introduced me to the finder of the wryneck, Dave Parmenter had first discovered the bird early Monday morning on only his second visit to the site whilst looking for this very species, both he and Mike had been checking a few sites in Buckinghamshire in the hope that they might uncover a wryneck and Dave struck gold.

As the afternoon went on birders came and went including the one and only CDRH, the bird continued to show well but further down the path and most of the time in deeper vegetation. Dave P, Mike C and myself decided to stay at the top of the tumulus knowing that at some point the Wryneck would wander up the path towards us, we had all seen it and it made no sense to follow it around or disturb it(if that's at all possible with this individual) so we sat and waited. Those that had now seen it left leaving just five of us and sure enough the Wryneck came wandering up the path soon after, it now became to close to digiscope or take photos with DSLR's and stopped some 3 or 4ft in front of the closet person, it looked us up and down and then continued towards us until it was now between mike collard and myself. There was absolute silence as we looked down between us and scared to move a muscle i think i actually held my breath, it stopped and looked at mike and I before flying between us and up to the tumulus, so close was it that we both heard it's wing feathers beating as it took off. It was an absolutely incredible moment and certainly one that will live on in my memory for a very long time.

Dave Parmenter's photo showing the Wryneck approaching

And from my view

For the rest of the afternoon it spent most of it's time around the top of the tumulus feeding on ants which it foraged from the many ant hills, it continued to wander around oblivious to everything and everybody else present and only on the odd occasion did it fly in to the hedgerow and didn't take long for it to return and begin feeding again. As the afternoon had now almost ebbed away it was time to go, the batteries on my camera had managed to last some 600 photos but were now on their last legs giving me just enough power to flick through my photos to see what I'd got. As i did so they went giving me the prompt to pack up and head off along with Mike Collard.
A fantastic few hours spent with some incredibly nice people and one incredible bird, I'm sure this charismatic little individual will be remembered for a very long time. Congratulations once again to Dave Parmenter for a fantastic find.